When No. 23 NC State lost star redshirt sophomore linebacker Payton Wilson to a season-ending shoulder injury, it was clear that his absence would leave a large hole to fill. Wilson was the ACC’s top tackler in 2020, the fourth-best in the country, and received first team All-ACC honors for his efforts. Wilson is a dude.
So is redshirt junior linebacker Isaiah Moore, though. He wears NC State’s No. 1 jersey as the leader of a defense which has firmly established itself as one of the best in the country, and his past stats aren’t too shabby either. Moore’s 94 tackles last year were second only to Wilson to lead the team, and he had a knack for stepping up in big games — his 13 tackles and a safety against then-No. 21 Liberty being the finest example of that.
Moore’s taken on an even greater role for the defense, becoming the Energizer bunny the team lost in Wilson. There’s been a noticeable jump in his performance as of late, most notably last week when he had a team-leading eight tackles, two of which for loss, along with three hurries and a pass break up. Coming into camp, Moore looked lighter and that’s showing up on tape.
After playing at or above 240 pounds for the past two years, Moore is down to a listed weight of 236, and after fully recovering from a knee injury he suffered during a previous season, he’s playing like someone shot him out of a cannon.
The middle linebacker had a season high 10 tackles along with a sack and additional hurry against Louisiana Tech as a deteriorating NC State defense tried to survive an onslaught from the best offense it’s faced this year. At differing points in the game, freshman defensive tackle Davin Vann, junior safety Tanner Ingle, graduate defensive tackle Cory Durden and graduate defensive end Daniel Joseph were forced to the sideline with injuries. While the former three all returned to the game, dealing with those nagging injuries certainly had an effect on the team’s play. After such a good first half, defensively, the cracks really started to show in the second, and by the end of the game, Austin Kendall seemed to be getting whatever he wanted.
The linebackers weren’t spared either, as sophomore Jaylon Scott played through a lower body injury which had him limping in the first half. Later in the fourth, Moore and sophomore Drake Thomas were slow to rise after a Louisiana Tech touchdown. In the first half, the Bulldogs averaged just over 5 yards per play, but in the second, that number jumped to just under 7.
“Defensively we didn't play well [in the second half],” said head coach Dave Doeren. “It was the opposite of what we saw in the first half. We didn't tackle, our corners didn't play technique football, didn't make plays on the ball. But we did enough to win.”
Playing through pain is the standard for football players, but to be hurting and still put in your best performance of the season thus far is impressive. When the going got tough for NC State, it was often Moore who made the aforementioned plays it needed. The linebacker had just one tackle in the first half and nine in the second.
When the game was 20-10, and with Louisiana Tech just outside the red zone on a drive which had gained 50 yards — including a big 31-yard reception, one of the longest plays of the day for the Bulldogs — Moore made three straight tackles for gains of 0, 0 and 5 to personally end the drive for a defense that was reeling.
Later, as Louisiana Tech made one final effort to tie the game up and send things to overtime, Moore again stepped up for the defense. On the final drive of the game, Moore had three tackles, one of which went uncredited. With Kendall constantly showing off his running ability, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson often had Moore spy him, and Moore made the open-field tackles necessary to stop bad plays from getting worse.
After a huge win in toppling Clemson, it would’ve surprised no one for NC State to lose against a deceptively good Louisiana Tech squad, but experienced players like Isaiah Moore are what kept that from happening. NC State escaped Saturday night, keeping its ranking and its postseason hopes alive, but Moore seemed none too pleased with the product the team put on the field. In his fifth season for the Wolfpack, NC State’s top defensive player was all business even after an exciting victory.
“We probably shouldn't have been in that moment, we didn't play well on the defensive side of the ball in the second half so we gotta get that fixed,” Moore said. “We took away his first read and he was just taking off so we gotta get that fixed, be sound in our rushing lanes moving forward. We put that down on tape so [in] the next couple weeks we’ve got to take that off of tape.”